Articles

America's first fighter jet was designed before Pearl Harbor — but the Army rejected it

The Lockheed L-133 was thought to be capable of flying at least 620 mph and moving even faster when it kicked in its afterburners. Members of the development team thought it might even be capable of supersonic flight.


Shockingly, the L-133 wasn't an aircraft design from the 1950s, but from 1938.

Photo: Youtube

Lockheed pitched the L-133 to the Army Air Force in 1940, but the generals were focused on long-range bombers. The people at Lockheed who designed the L-133 would go on to be the major players in Lockheed's famed Skunk Works. They took many of their ideas from the L-133 and incorporated them into new designs for more than 20 years.

When the Germans began developing jet fighters, the U.S. decided they needed one. They went to Lockheed in 1944 and asked for a new fighter within 160 days. Using the lessons from the L-133, Lockheed created the F-80 with a couple days to spare. The F-80 was the first American fighter with jet engines to reach production.

Photo: US Air Force

Next the F-104 Starfighter was first flown in 1954. It incorporated the afterburners and "boundary layer control," a method of increasing control of planes with short wings, that were originally destined for the L-133.

Photo: US Air Force

The SR-71 Blackbird flew in 1964 and was the first American aircraft to have wings blended into the body for stealth, a design element the L-133 called for in 1940.

Photo: US Air Force

To learn more, check out the documentary below.